To my older sister, Kiensha,
Since I was a little girl, I have always known what it feels like to be loved, even though we didn’t have an easy childhood.
Born in the Bahamas, I am the fourth child of 10 on our mother’s side. You are eight years older than me, and we have different dads. My dad didn’t know about me while we lived in the Bahamas. At just two years old, mom would leave to gamble, and you, at 10 years old, would take over as our caregiver. There were nights I would cry because I was hungry and we were out of food. You’d be the one to look for mom or for a way to feed us. One time, I started to choke, and you saved me.
When I was three, we moved to the United States. In first grade, I was in the play Chicken Little. While our mom was there, what I remember most is seeing you cheering me on and taking pictures. You used those pictures to create a memory book for me.
Unfortunately soon after, when I was seven, Mom continued to gamble, and we became homeless. We stopped going to school and went from hotel to hotel until an investigator from the Department of Children and Families showed up at our room one day. When the investigator realized our mother was unable to provide stable housing, they took us away. Along with two of my sisters, I went to one foster care home while you went to a different one.
Foster care was horrible. I was beaten and locked in a room because I peed in my bed. And even worse, I didn’t get to see you while I was there. But after a year, my father found out I was in foster care and brought me home to live with him. Around that time, you and five of our siblings went to live with a relative.
I used to visit you and my siblings at this relative’s house. They didn’t have a lot of food. And while you and our siblings lived there, someone used food as a way to groom me and abuse me. At first, I thought it was just me, so I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid this person would move on to our younger sisters. I wasn’t doing well in school during that time, and I started getting into lots of fights. Kids started calling me muscleman because I was so angry. My dad didn’t know what was going on, and he didn’t know how to help me. He’d tell me to talk to you, and you would always give me advice and calm me down.
Then one day, I learned I wasn’t the only one who was abused, but our younger sisters were as well. By this time, you were older and not living with them. Our brother came to you and told you what was happening, and you broke down in tears. Only 21 years old and living in subsidized housing for young people who aged out of foster care, you went to court and fought for custody. They didn’t want to give you custody because you were so young, but you were relentless, showing them you had a place for our siblings to stay and the means to take care of them. Eventually, you won, and you took in four children at 21 years old. You sacrificed your 20s to take care of us. No parties. No going out. No relaxing and having fun.
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Around that time, I started to do a lot better in school, making the honor roll my junior and senior years. When I graduated, you were at my ceremony taking pictures and telling me how proud you were of me. When I turned 18, I asked if I could leave my dad’s house and come live with you. And of course, you welcomed me. You worked at Broward Meat and Fish in Pembroke Pines, where they paid you minimum wage before promoting you to a manager. While working, you also went to school and graduated with a master’s degree in social work. All while helping to raise our siblings and me.
Right now, I am 23 years old. Like you did, I live in housing for young adults who aged out of foster care. Also, I am in college, and I have a job and an internship. You have always encouraged and helped my siblings and me to go after our dreams, whether it be my dream to become a dancer or our brother’s dream to become an NBA player. You sign us up for programs, introduce us to the right people and even make purchases to help us reach our goals. We are all doing well, and we are excited about our future.
Without you, I would probably be like many other foster kids – still fighting a lot and dealing with anger issues. You have brought so much happiness to my life. I don’t even have a favorite memory with you. Every memory is my favorite because we’re always having fun, laughing, and making videos.
You are my comfort, my guidance, and my hero. You are the only person in this world I fully trust.
Kiensha, I have always known what it feels like to be loved because I have always had you.
I love you. Thank you.
Your little sister,